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LOBBYING WASHINGTON: IT CAN BE A GOOD THING

2007 Meeting of the National Directors of Graduate Studies in Pharmacology

University of Utah, Salt Lake City, July 25 – 28

H. Newton Williams

I am very pleased to be here today to talk with you about the importance of lobbying decision makers in Washington, DC. You will notice that I do not have a computer presentation and that is appropriate as one cannot use this technology when visiting with a Member of Congress in Washington. You will meet with Members of Congress or their Staff Members either in a small meeting room or the Member’s office and you will have 15 to 20 minutes to make your points and answer questions.

During the next few minutes, I will share my perspectives on lobbying both as a former Business Leader and as a former Professional Lobbyist. Some people would be surprised to see the word “lobbying” and “a good thing” in the same sentence. Until Ulysses S. Grant became President, lobby referred to a large entrance room to a building. After President Grant sat in the lobby of the Willard Hotel in Washington listening to requests from his constituents, lobbying and lobbyist took on entirely new meanings. Unfortunately lobbying has a negative connotation among many people these days. With some of the scandals in the recent past, one can understand how this negative cloud has surrounded lobbying. However, lobbying is defined as “an organized attempt by members of the public to influence politicians or public officials”. Lobbying can be a positive endeavor. When done with integrity, lobbying is not only a good thing, it is necessary for our elected officials to be informed and to make good decisions.

There are thousand of paid professional lobbyists in Washington, DC. In fact, many Universities have a Government Relations Department which lobbies State and Federal Lawmakers. There are thousands of American citizens who lobby their Representatives every day. The American Heart Association recently conducted a Congressional Heart and Stroke Lobby Day during which hundreds of people representing every state of the Union went to DC to talk about Cardiovascular and Stroke issues.

There are many influencers of Public Policy and our Members of Congress. We can learn many lessons from the recently failed Senate Immigration bill. This bill had a broad base of support from many Americans. Here is a list of supporters of the Immigration Bill from a “New York Times” article dated June 16, 2007:

1. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

2. The National Restaurant Association

3. The National Council of La Raza

4. The New England Apple Council

5. Farmers and ranchers from coast to coast

6. Unite Here (a union representing apparel, hotel and laundry workers)

7. The United States Chamber of Commerce

8. The National Association of Manufacturers

9. The Business Roundtable

A “Los Angeles Times” article noted that 63 percent of those surveyed support a legalization path for immigrants. The article went on to note: “That is a striking show of support for the central tenet of legislation that has stalled in the Senate amid vocal opposition from conservatives to provisions allowing such a path to citizenship” and “Although the pathway to citizenship was one of the most controversial provisions of the Senate Bill, the poll found the idea was backed by 63 percent of those surveyed – even by 58 percent of those who identified themselves as conservatives and 65 percent of Republicans.”

A few days later, an Associated Press article commented that; “Conservative talk radio’s impact on the immigration debate reached new heights last week, with one host effectively writing an amendment for when the Senate returns to the imperiled bill this week.” The AP article also noted: “The legislation faces showdown votes this week that lawmakers on all sides agree will be close. If the measure fails, talk radio and TV – where CNN’s Lou Dobbs has been especially critical – will deserve substantial credit, academics and politicians say.” So talk show hosts on the right and left were significantly affecting the bill.

Now let’s read excerpts from a July 2, 2007 “Los Angeles Times” article entitled: “Immigration reform just too hot to handle”. “For most of this year, immigration reform looked like an issue whose time had finally come, with the unusual confluence of a Republican President, Democratic Congress and public all demanding a solution. But the spectacular collapse of the Senate’s bipartisan immigration legislation last week demonstrated that the seemingly auspicious political environment was no match for an issue which was juat too hot to handle. Polls have indicated that a majority of Americans want to allow illegal immigrants to become citizens if they learn English, pay fines and meet other requirements. But the opinions expressed on senatorial phones and in e-mails were overwhelmingly those of the politically agitated opposition.”

So what happened in those 16 days between the overwhelmingly positive support for this bill and the Senate defeat? The Senators were significantly affected by public input. The anti-immigration bill minority and the talk show “talking heads” were very vocal and they overwhelmed some very powerful organizations and the 63 percent of Americans who supported immigration reform. What are the lessons to be learned from the Immigration Bill defeat?

1. Just because “the big guys” are on your side, do not assume that you will win

2. Just because your cause is right and just, do not assume that you will win

3. Just because you are in the majority, particularly the “silent majority”, do not assume that you will win

You must be willing to speak out and to communicate with your Members of Congress.

So Why Should You Be Interested in Lobbying?

• You and your programs are affected: If you are not going to lobby,who is?

• Important Professional development for your PhD candidates

• Members of Congress need your expertise

1. You and your programs are affected:

For example, Heidi Hamm and Joey Barnett of Vanderbilt University were concerned about the decreasing level of NIH funding following several years of the NIH budget doubling. They solicited volunteers from their PhD candidates and we worked with them to prepare presentations encouraging Congressional support for increased NIH funding. Since the meetings were to be held at Vanderbilt during Congressional recesses, computer-based presentations were prepared and a tour of a lab supported by NIH funds was planned. There were six to seven PhD candidate volunteers who supported the effort and three of them prepared focused presentations supprting increased NIH funding. To date, one meeting has been held with a Member of Congress. House of Representatives Member Jim Cooper spent two hours with the students. This time was significantly longer that the typical 30 to 45 minute visit in the home district. Representative Cooper was very responsive, but he reminded us that everyone wants more money, NIH got more when the budgets of others were cut and that it is easier for a Member of Congress to say no than to say yes to a request. He thanked everyone for doing a great job, but he cautioned us to not expect more money for the NIH. A few months later, Congressman Cooper signed a letter supporting a significant increase in NIH funding. The Vanderbilt Department of Pharmacology and their three PhD candidates had an impressive impact on Congressman Cooper! YOU NEED TO GIVE YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS REASONS TO SAY YES TO YOUR REQUESTS!

MORE OF YOU NEED TO BE INVOLVED. If you are not going to be active, who will influence your issues, some radio talk show host?

Lobbying or public policy advocacy, if that sounds better to you and your students, can consist of writing letters or emails, meeting with a Congressional staff member locally, hosting your Members of Congress at your facility and/or visiting Washington, DC. Your Members of Congress probably have offices in the city where your university is located. For example, the two Utah Senators, Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Robert Bennett both have their local offices at 125 State Street, Suite 4225 in Salt Lake City. I assume that this address is very close to the University of Utah. The Member of the House of Representatives for the University of Utah, Rob Bishop, also has his office at 4225 State Street. I found this information at, write this down, www.senate.gov and www.house.gov. Meeting their staff members and scheduling meetings with these Members of Congress should be very easy. Be careful to schedule separate meetings as the egos of Members of Congress are pretty large and they do not like sharing a stage with each other.

2. And Now to Professional Development

• Our scientists must know how to communicate with Members of Congress and other policy makers to influence their decisions on issues like NIH funding.

• Communicating & influencing are marketing except that you are marketing concepts and ideas rather than goods and services. Marketing ideas & concepts is harder than any other marketing.

• Talking with members of Congress and the public in general is a different mode of communication than a scientific presentation. Scientists are accustomed to presenting to other scientists where reams of data and scientific terminology are expected. This will not do for members of Congress or the public in general.

• In a presentation at your location, one should only use 5-6 slides per issue and no more than three numbers. Remember that you will not be able to use slides or a computer presentation in their offices. If you visit the Member’s office, you should leave behind a ONE to ONE-HALF PAGE summary of who you are, what your issue is and why the Member should support your position. Becoming this concise is not easy, but it must be done!

• You need to identify the needs of the Member of Congress in order for the Member to support your issue.

3. Your Member of the House of Representative & your two Senators need your expertise:

• It does not matter what your politics are or how you voted, they need to hear from you. Regardless of your vote, you are a constituent of both of your Senators and your Member of the House of Representatives

• Most Members of Congress are committed to do the right thing. Even if our politics differ, they need and want good information

• They are very busy

• They handle thousands of issues and many are technical & scientific

• They vote on hundreds of bills and have several committee assignments

• Constituent Services and district visits are time consuming, but very important

• They have National Party Commitments and make Congressional trips

• They are constantly involved with re-election fund raising & campaigning

• Your knowing and working with their Staff Members is critical

• You need to be a source of much needed scientific information. Your best position is to be a trusted source of information

Your issues are important and they are significantly affected by Members of Congress. I suggest that you need to develop your PhD candidates to participate in influencing the government. Your Senators and your Member of the House of Representatives need your input. It takes a commitment of time and resources, but the effort is also meaningful professional development for your PhD candidates So, if you are interested in influencing public policy, what do you do now?

• Talk with Dr Joey Barnett about the Vanderbilt experience

• Do what Joey did: Find a retired guy who lobbied and likes academia

• Come to one of our breakout session this afternoon for further discussion

With the proper review, consultation and practice, you and your students can become quite adept at influencing issues in Washington. If you become the scientific and policy “go-to” group for your Member of Congress, you will have accomplished a significant achievement.

Now I believe that we have some time for questions.

Two very important points were made during the question and answer period:

1. If one plans to “lobby” Members of Congress, the University Department responsible for Congressional Relations (Government Relations, Public Policy or Communications) should be contacted to coordinate the meeting. Problems can occur if the department responsible for Government Relations is not aware of the contact. Hopefully, the department will be very supportive of your efforts.

2. If one is in Washington, DC on NIH business, one should not lobby when being paid a per diem by the NIH. Once the per diem is no longer being paid, one could lobby Members of Congress.

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